Economic analysis of critical habitat designation for the desert tortoise (Mojave population)

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emergency 1isted the Mojave population of the desert tortoise as endangered on August 4, 1989. The Mojave population formally was listed as threatened on April 2, 1990. The Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, requires that the economic benefits and costs and other relevant effects of critical habitat designation be considered. The Secretary of the Interior may exclude from designation areas where the costs of designation are greater than the benefits, unless the exclusion would result in extinction of the species.

Desert tortoises are threatened by an accumulation of human-and disease-related mortality accompanied by habitat destruction, degradation, and fragmentation. Many desert tortoises are illegally collected for pets, food, and commercial trade. Others are accidentally struck and killed by vehicles on roads and highways or are killed by gunshot or vehicles traveling off-highway. Raven predation on hatchling desert tortoises has increased as raven populations in the desert have risen. An upper respiratory tract disease is suspected to be a major cause of mortality in the western Mojave Desert. This presumably incurable affliction presumably is thought to be spread through the release of infected tortoises into the desert.

The Service has proposed designating critical habitat in nine counties within four states. The 12 critical habitat units encompass 6.4 million acres of land, more than 80% federally owned. This region is economically and demographically diverse. Most of the land is sparsely settled and characterized as a hot desert ecosystem.

Major industries in the region include entertainment and lodging (primarily in Las Vegas), property development to accommodate the rapid population growth, and services. Millions of rural acres in the region are leased by the federal government for livestock grazing and used for mining. Overall economic benefits to the affected states derived from cattle and sheep grazing in the hot desert areas are minimal and, according to a recent U.S. General Accounting Office study (1991), local economies do not depend on the grazing of public lands for economic survival.

The economic analysis describes the economy in 1990, prior to designation, and estimates the effects of designation. The report estimates those incremental effects attributable to critical habitat designation. Impacts attributable to listing the species were not considered in this analysis. Although critical habitat units have been designated in nine counties, two counties are omitted from the economic analysis because of the small proportion of critical habitat acreage they include. Three key activities (cattle grazing, mineral extraction, and off-road vehicle use) were studied in detail.

Even if livestock grazing and commercial off-road racing events were eliminated in the proposed critical habitat units, the potential incremental regional economic impacts would be extremely small. The findings in the report do not include the assumption that mining would be eliminated from critical habitat units, but rather that consultation may result in added mitigation and/or relocation of features.

Studies show that society will realize benefits from preservation of species and ecosystems. Survey-based studies confirm that benefits exist and are substantial in size, although these benefits often are not measured in traditional economic markets. The total benefit to society of desert tortoise preservation includes several components. Biodiversity in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts will be improved, some recreation values may increase, and gains in intrinsic value will be realized.

Critical habitat designation should result in the loss of fewer than 425 total jobs in the seven counties. These include 340 direct ranching jobs and 85 indirect jobs in other industries. This estimated employment loss will not be permanent for most laborers, it is anticipated that over 85% will be reemployed within two years.

The economic consequences of designating critical habitat includes reduced ranch profits in the seven counties of $4,470,000 [the estimated permanent decrease in ranch profits, capitalized at 10% for a 50-year period, in accordance with the methodology of River, et al. (1978)]. Second, the federal government will compensate allottees with a one-time payment estimated at $376,000 for the loss of permanent improvements to grazing lands (pending BLM administrative decisions of partially affected allotments). Finally, discontinuing grazing fees will result in an annual reduction of $170,000 in collected grazing fees that are divided among range improvements, the Federal Treasury, and local governments.

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Economic analysis of critical habitat designation for the desert tortoise (Mojave population)
Year Published 1993
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Fort Collins, CO
Description 92 p.
Country United States
State California, Nevada
Other Geospatial Mojave Desert
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